Art and Scientific Thought: Historical Studies Towards a Modern Revision of Their Antagonism

By Martin Johnson | Go to book overview

Chapter 14
Symbolism as a Future Clue to Conciliation between Science, Religion, and Art

I
Introduction

In a troubled age, when the needs of public safety must absorb so large a proportion of available effort, we may well take thought to eliminate some of the wasteful sources of disharmony in human relationship. One of the most disastrous of these has been the habit of treating our divergent beliefs about nature as if one of them were right and every other were wrong. Throughout history there has been no cruelty more merciless than that practised by orthodox religionists upon heretics or unbelievers, and when we have emerged from such barbarism there still survives the sour suspicion with which religious and scientific, the mystical and the logical temperaments, tend to regard one another. Even between closely neighbouring religious bodies, toleration of unfamiliar beliefs is a new and rare virtue, not always distinguishable from a mere softened contempt; so it is not likely that the more subtle possibilities of sympathetic agreement between a scientific and a religious outlook will be easy to recognise, and indeed any such possibility is commonly ignored and peace only maintained by an aloofness of mistrust. But if the method of scientific observation itself were utilised to discover what similarity of foundation may underlie a great variety of religions, the results might contribute to mutual respect so long as they were presented without the traditional hostility. In searching for such foundations, I suggest that most manifestations of the religious attitude to nature are attempts at symbolising a certain kind of experience: the suggestion arises from considering, as follows, certain phenomena which are accessible to observation by anyone.


II
The Fact of Worship

2. In a scientific approach, indeed upon any rational plan, it is important to separate the facts from their diverging possibilities of

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